Winter Climbing

When the deep powder is tracked out at the ski slopes and it’s too cold for mountain biking, try some alpine climbing this winter. Many excellent climbs lie within just a few hours of Bozeman and require little technical knowledge. Just an axe, warm clothes, and basic backcountry skills are needed for these close-by classics.

Madison Range
These mountains, southwest of Bozeman, hold many of the most popular and impressive climbs in the area. In the heart of the Madison Range lies Sphinx Mountain at 10,876 feet which, in fact, looks much like a sphinx. It is popular in the winter for ski-mountaineering and can be done in a day (conditions permitting). Most people hike the five to six miles up to the saddle between the Sphinx and The Helmet, then head up the west ridge, via the snow-filled gully, finally skiing down.

Beta: Head East from Cameron off Highway 287 and park at the Bear Creek Ranger Station. Follow trail toward the saddle, then up to summit. Pay attention to snow conditions and weather.

Spanish Peaks
In the southern part of the jagged Spanish Peaks lies Beehive Basin and Gallatin Peak. Just minutes from Big Sky, Beehive Basin and Gallatin Peak offer moderate alpine climbing and easy access. The long approaches in Hyalite, twenty miles west, are common in southwest Montana and make the easy one-hour approach to Beehive a rare gem. The short trail meanders along a small creek through some hardy stands of pine and bleached deadfall to the base of Beehive. From there, the most popular winter route to the summit is via the south ridge or to hike the ridge across the entire bowl. In warmer weather, there are six or seven routes up the face that range from a scrambly 5.8, New World Order II, to the thin crack Callis/Jungst Route II-III, 5.11-. Gallatin Pk (11,000 feet) just to the northwest is frequently climbed but is more technical, committing, and has a more difficult approach.

Beta: The area is as popular with climbers as it is with developers. Getting there can be confusing with new subdivisions and electronic access gates springing up daily. Head to Big Sky, turning north about two miles before the ski hill onto Summit Drive which takes you to the Beehive Basin Trailhead. A short, easy trail leads to the base of Beehive and the climbs. Conditions here can crap out fast so be mindful of snow conditions and weather.

Crazy Mountains
In the Crazy Mountain Range, northeast of Bozeman, lie a number of more technical winter climbs including Crazy Peak itself at 11,209 feet. Crazy Peak has long been a vision quest site for the Crow Indians and remains so today. A favorite of local guidebook author Ron Brunckhorst, the Standard Route up the true north face makes for a long day trip (weather permitting!) and will often contain steep AI3 ice climbing in the couloir. Brunckhorst’s Alpine Ice and Rock Guide suggests bringing a selection of pitons, crampons, axes, some ice screws, and a couple deadman anchors. The approach is complicated and careful route selection is important so a guidebook is recommended.